American University in the Emirates Subject: Business Law- Spring 2012 Instructor: Professor Khalid Alrawi Project Why Not a Zillion?

Why Not a Zillion?The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 1999We suggested in these columns recently that because of such mockeries of justice as the breast-implant litigation, the United States was losing its status as one of the civilized world’s most admired legal systems. On Friday a civil jury in Los Angeles awarded $107 million to six people who’d been badly burned in a fiery crash involving a General Motors car. So that’s almost $18 million for each person, as compensation for their pain and disfigurement. This result is at least arguable.These six were stopped at a traffic light on Christmas Eve when they were hit from behind by a drunk in a car going 70 mph. Their car exploded, and some of them were trapped inside. Their position at trial was that GM knew that if its 1979 Malibu was in an accident, the gas tank could explode. And that GM didn’t want to spend the money to avoid that result. Again, 70 mph straight into the rear of a stopped car.Then, after the $107 million of compensation, the LA jury imposed so-called punitive damages on GM of $4.9 billion. GM’s annual profits last year were about $3 billion. Let’s assume that the plaintiffs lawyers will get about a third, or $1,6000,000,000, leaving for the six victims $3,300,000,000.Here’s what some of the jurors said after they spent about a day coming up with these numbers:“GM has no regard for the people in their cars.”“I never knew how much power corporations have. We’re just a number, I feel like, to them.”“GM talked to us like we were stupid. Regular people like us buy cars like that. It shouldn’t be allowed.”Of course a judge will eventually reduce the $5 billion, if not throw it out altogether. But still it sits there, this figure that might as well be a gazillion, intoned dramatically on every newscast in the land, spread across every front page, and in the electronic age spread around the world—to Russia, China, Serbia and any other such place that regularly gets told by officials from America or the IMF that they must establish a “rule of law.” Like in that LA courtroom?A USC law professor said afterward that awards like this give our tort system “something of a lottery character.” Gee, is there a single person in the U.S. who by now doesn’t believe the civil justice system is essentially a jackpot? Doctors do. Businessmen do. So why shouldn’t 12 people in Los Angeles take the opportunity to act out their economic superstitions?No doubt there’s a lot of ruin in the U.S. legal system, but every time the plaintiffs bar pulls off something like this $5 billion fiasco, it further corrodes the public’s, and the world’s, belief that U.S. courtrooms are serious places. We’re waiting for the nation’s judges to raise an alarm over what’s happening to their hallowed courts. If they won’t, then maybe we should think about exchanging those black robes for tuxes and pink ties and replacing the gavel with a croupier’s stick.Critical Thinking Questions1.

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